A Grey Havens Gathering

Grey Havens at Barbed Wire Books, Thursday, January 3, 2013
Grey Havens at Barbed Wire Books, Thursday, January 3, 2013

That evening a cold twilight came down out of the Blue Mountains, and Badgaladriel welcomed us all to our first gathering of the year.  On that night we pondered “Riddles in the Dark.”  We lingered long on one scene, wondering whether the original could be termed “secular” and whether a later version might be termed “religious.”

Some said the story marked a lonely dark descent.  A frightful creature wept.  Wasn’t it sad?  Why didn’t we feel any pity?  So was it really mercy that ruled our fate?  Or was it pitiless theft?  A few witnessed a leap of faith.  And near the end of the epic, everyone noticed how the sad creature would become very old and weary before entering another cave.

“A fine meeting it was,” said one mariner.  Another added, “And a very good discussion it was!”  We spoke our hearts and we listened.  In our city beside a long-vanished sea, we sat communing as evening unfolded under ancient chilly stars.

And that night was the anniversary of the birth of The Professor.  So when the meeting ended we adjourned to a nearby tavern.  There we stood to toast his 121st birthday.  The Professor!

Grey Havens at the Dickens Tavern, Thursday, January 3, 2013
Grey Havens at the Dickens Tavern, Thursday, January 3, 2013

4 thoughts on “A Grey Havens Gathering”

  1. Our discussion at this Grey Havens meeting was so lively and impassioned that it may be of interest to present the specific list of readings that shaped our dialogue on “Riddles in the Dark.”

    John Rateliff, The History of The Hobbit: Part One, Mr. Baggins, 2007, p. 161: paragraph beginning “So Bilbo slipped under the arch…”

    The Hobbit, Chapter 5, “Riddles in the Dark”: paragraph beginning “Bilbo almost stopped breathing…”

    The Two Towers, “The Stairs of Cirith Ungol”: paragraph (near the end) beginning “Gollum looked at them.” John Rateliff points out (The History of The Hobbit: Part Two, Return to Bag-End, 2007, p. 744-745 note 38) that Tolkien’s revision of “Riddles in the Dark” in 1944-1951 coincided in time with his 1944 LotR portrayal of Gollum as “an old weary hobbit” who reaches out to Frodo briefly upon the stairs of Cirith Ungol.

    John Rateliff, The History of The Hobbit: Part Two, Return to Bag-End, 2007, p. 738: paragraph beginning “Bilbo stopped breathing…”

    Tolkien’s conception of “mercy” also entered into our discussions. For this see Humphrey Carpenter, The Letters of JRR Tolkien, 2000, letter # 181, 191, 192, 246.

    For another overview of “Riddles in the Dark” see this post by Ilverai: http://ilverai.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/reading-the-hobbit-riddles-in-the-dark-or-lets-play-with-the-monster-who-wants-to-eat-me/

  2. I’m assuming your references here link up with the discussion of religious vs. secular…? I haven’t had a chance to revisit this yet, but that part makes me curious as to what scene it’s in reference to. Thanks talelmarhazad!

    1. I suggested to everyone that the manuscript version of the passage where Bilbo parts ways with Gollum reflects Tolkien’s original intention to construct an adventure story for his children. Later versions of this scene incorporate Tolkien’s religious concepts surrounding the idea of “mercy.” This served as an implicit vehicle for covertly foreshadowing an unspoken future: the eventual appearance of Christian ideology in Middle-earth. The Peter Jackson interpretation of this key scene contextualizes Bilbo’s pity via a tearful grieving Gollum, rather than via a more esoteric quality of “mercy,” thus reverting to a more humanistic motive and minimizing the covert Christian theme that Tolkien inserted into the scene. But one thing we have all learned at Grey Havens, Ilverai, is that consensus in our views, interpretations, and appreciation is not the goal. If you choose to share any thoughts on this set of ideas, we all look forward to that.

      1. Hmm…I had never thought of putting it that way, but it does fit fairly closely. Though very few passages in The Lord of the Rings and especially in The Hobbit may be considered theological in nature, I agree that this does stand as an example of Christian Mercy inserted into Middle Earth. It is in kernel form. Though actually written in after much of LotR was complete, it is merely a hint on what is to come, which was probably purposefully done “covertly” in order to plant the seed which would later flourish in LotR (particularly TTT).

        As much as the finding of the Ring (versus the ring) and Gollums ties to it revolutionizes the tale and prepares the way for the primary catalyst of Frodo’s tale, this moment of Mercy stands at the core of what Tolkien’s Hobbit stories would become, establishing the precedent (established early by Gandalf in stating that ‘Bilbo’s pity will rule the fate of many, Frodo’s not least of all’ (paraphrased)) for the manner in which the great deeds of the Third Age will be accomplished. Without this linchpin scene, as much as it could be stated the changes to Gollum are really the point, the Christian Virtue centered plot of LotR crumbles as a valid argument in ME. This may seem a stretch, but the primary themes of The Hobbit are more focused on those of pagan myth, ie. courage, loyalty etc. As I recall the tale (though I may change my tune upon finishing the re-read), there are no other explicit moments, like this one, which bear directly on these central, and arguably theological, themes of LotR.

        Whew…rambling enough for you? 😉

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